The first role model of a fawn is the forest floor. The white spots on its brown fur resemble the dappled rays of the sun falling through the trees, breaking the outline of the deer. The camouflage helps protect baby white-tailed deer from bears and bobcats while the mother forages elsewhere.
While its mother is away, the fawn hides in tall grass and remains vigilant – eyes open and ears pricked, listening for movement. When the doe returns, she feeds her baby milk and licks it all over to remove the smell. She licks his genitals to persuade the fawn to urinate or defecate, and then she may even eat his feces. Her cleaning ensures that predators won’t detect a whiff of her baby.
But sometimes the doe doesn’t come back – maybe hit by a car. If the fawn is left alone for too long, its ears curl up, a sign of dehydration, and flies can puff up around its uncleaned body, attracting attention. The youngest deer are often too weak to stand, and in New York’s Westchester County, many are found beside the bodies of their dead mothers on the side of the road, according to Patrick Moore, the president of Animal Nation, a nonprofit. animal rescue organization. group based in Rye, NY
Fortunately, Mr. Moore knows how to be a doe. If the facility at Animal Nation is overcrowded, which is often the case, Mr. Moore will house the fawns in his own bathroom. There he cleans them and sweeps away any maggots that may have hatched from eggs laid in the deer’s waste. He feeds the fawns goat’s milk every two to four hours. He’ll rub the fawn’s anal regions to encourage them to produce waste, his fingers mimicking the native language.
“The hardest part is not getting them imprinted,” said Mr. Moore. A cuddled baby deer can also easily start to think of itself as a human, making it difficult to put the animal back into the environment. wild† So Mr. Moore is fast and quiet with his work. He keeps orphaned fawns together so they can bond with their own kind. During the baby season, which peaks from May to September, he rarely gets more than four hours of sleep at a time.
After all, baby season is more than fawns. There are baby groundhogs, baby hawks, baby great horned owls and baby squirrels, arriving in multiple nests from spring through fall. Many are injured and sick, and most cannot take care of themselves.
Although he is president of Animal Nation, Mr. Moore is an unpaid volunteer. He has a full-time job as a firefighter in the Bronx. This cumulative rescue effort is exhausting and Mr. Moore is burned out. But if there’s room in his own house, he can’t help but help the animals. “People say, ‘Let me visit your facility,'” he said. “And I say, ‘You’re coming to my bathroom.'”
The fascinating world of birds
Stranded creatures everywhere
Animal Nation, one of the few rehabilitation centers in Westchester, often reaches capacity and must stop taking in new creatures before the end of the year. But during the pandemic, phone calls skyrocketed as people who were once in offices began to spend more time outside. They found fawns orphaned near bike paths and young that had fallen from their nests. According to Jim Horton, the owner of QualityPro Pest & Wildlife Services in Hawthorne, NY, many urban residents moved to the suburbs, and some first-time homeowners were greeted by attic-bound swarms of bats or flying squirrels.
Some conservationists euthanize so-called nuisance animals, but Mr. Horton brings the animals he moves to a rehabilitation center. He also helps Animal Nation on many of its more difficult conversations. A few weeks ago, Mr. Horton climbed a 40-foot ladder to pull a baby raccoon from a tree. Earlier this year, he collected a family of swans trying to cross a parkway and dropped them off at a nearby lake. He was also called in to help a bald eagle that someone thought had been hit by a car but was found to have lead poisoning.
Many of the calls Animal Nation receives are related to baby animals that have no distress at all. Last week someone called Mr. Horton about a baby bird she found in her yard and put in a box. Mr. Horton suspected that the bird’s mother was nearby, so he took the… bird back out and out of the box; like clockwork mother robin flew down to feed her newly freed chick.
This mistake is common in fawns left in backyards by their mothers, which can be abandoned to the well-meaning onlooker. “In the case of humans, your enemy’s enemy is your friend,” said Asia Murphy, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has used camera traps to study fawns in Pennsylvania. Coyotes, bobcats and black bears avoid humans, so living next door to a deer can provide additional safety, said Dr. Murphy.
When Mr. Horton gets a call about a fawn, he asks about his ears (are they curled?) and his hygiene (are there flies?). If both answers are no, Mr. Horton advises the caller to leave the fawn alone for the night; more often than not, the mother lady will move her baby to a new place the next day.
The year of the parasite
In any given year, nature rehabbers can never predict what kind of calls will come in more often. This year appears to be the year of the parasite, Mr Moore said. He and other rehabbers are showered with waterfowl riddled with gapeworm, a parasite that lives and breeds in a bird’s windpipe and causes it to gasp or shake its head. Many of the fawns the group has taken in have E. coli and as a result suffer from diarrhea. Mr. Moore suspects that the baby deer make it out of the soil they eat.
“We have this perfect hot, humid, wet summer, where parasites thrive,” said Mr. Moore, adding that the winters that used to freeze every year and kill soil-borne parasites are getting warmer.
Mr. Moore first became a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in upstate New York at age 16, hand-feeding baby birds at his mother’s home. At the time, he wanted to help every animal he could.
Now, at age 32, he longs for more systemic change. “People call you for that one little fawn,” he said. “But are we doing tons of research and keeping a close eye on which animals have which problems?” Mr. Moore often sends samples to state-run pathology labs. But resources are limited, especially for species considered invasive or populations that are not threatened. There is always money and care for bald eagles and peregrine falcons, but less for squirrels and deer, Mr. Moore said.
When licensed wildlife rehabilitators in New York work with an animal too weak to recover, the only legal way to euthanize the animal is by breaking its neck. Mr. Moore has never done this before, he said, choosing instead to work with vets who offer their time pro bono.
For some animals that Animal Nation takes in, euthanasia is the most humane option. Mr. Horton recently received a call about a fawn that had been abandoned on the Pace University soccer field. From a distance, the fawn looked fine. But as Mr. Horton approached it, the young deer stood up and revealed a twist in its neck: a birth defect and the reason its mother abandoned it. Mr. Horton picked up the fawn and placed it on the floor mat of the passenger seat of his car, where it curled up as it drove. The fawn’s birth defect meant that it had to be euthanized.
Some fly away, others return
Animal Nation volunteers get up to 100 calls a day, and it’s impossible to answer them all. While we were talking on the phone, a beleaguered Mr. Moore had just received a call about a baby pigeon in nearby Putnam County. He also waited to see if a rescued bird of prey would be admitted to the Raptor Trust center in Millington, New Jersey, an hour away. The facility, which has spacious flight quarters to help injured birds learn to fly properly, has a waiting list.
“I don’t want to give up the little critters,” said Mr. Moore. But his 16-year-old self wouldn’t necessarily have signed up for this unsustainable workload. “We need paid rehabbers,” he said. “We need paid staff. We do our best.”
As baby season progresses, the fawns at Animal Nation will continue to wean and become more stable on their once wobbly paws. The state requires all deer to be released by Sept. 10, so Mr. Moore plans to release the fawns cautiously in August. “We open the doors and keep feeding them,” he said. “We let them come and go as they need.”
Many of the animals that pass through Animal Nation’s doors will leave the facility never to be seen again. Birds fly away. “The possums don’t care about you,” Mr. Moore said.
Others, such as food-seeking squirrels, manage to come back. And sometimes the fawns return to Animal Nation as early as the following year, their legs broken by cars. Mr Moore said it was easy to spot an adult deer he had rehabilitated as a fawn. “They’ll get closer than a deer should,” he said. “And you know it’s your baby.”